Why Most Arguments Suck – Make Yours Better
Ever wonder why there’s a whole lot of sparring and not a whole lot of understanding these days? It’s because people only argue from their point of view. A persuasive argument leverages the other’s peson’s beliefs and speaks from their perspective. Today’s “debates” with their “sound-bites” are just rallying cries and not true argument. A true argumentor finds the kernel of disagreement and sifts through the chaff of agreement.
Here’s my rules of argument:
Rule #1: If you don’t understand the other side’s argument AND can justify it — don’t start arguing, start asking.
For rule #1, I think about the abortion debate. I think about all the people who accuse each other about being “killers” or “legislating my body.” If you’re berating the other side, there’s no use arguing because neither side will give in.
A good persuader will ask first, rephrase their beliefs looking for confirmation and then argue.
For argument’s sake let’s take the side of pro-life. We would ask someone when they believe life exists and choice retreats. They would likely answer “at birth.” So it might seem that our kernel of disagreement is at what point life exists. But that’s not true: you need to test it with an assumption. Try asking this question: if at any point during a pregnancy, with minimal invasiveness, an embryo could be transferred to a test-tube with no ill physical or mental effects, would you support this alternative to abortion? Notice we’re still talking about their beliefs, but we’re finding out whether their objection is to a chain a woman’s body to pregnancy without a say or something else. If the answer is negative, then follow-up questions should find where or if that switch could ever be made.
Rule #2: Be willing to do the same exploration AND change your mind.
It’s not worth talking with someone unless you both can benefit from the other’s experience. However, if you’re following rule #1, it is difficult to have a closed mind. You might be sure of yourself, but not closed.
Turning the last situation around: a pro-choice person would ask the pro-life person when a person should be forced to sustain someone else’s life. Should I be required to give up one of my kidneys to save someone else’s life? my child’s life? Should I be required to feed my child at the expense of my health? What if there was only enough sustenance for one of us – which is right? which should be required by law? How far should a pregnant person be required to go to save the baby’s life? bankruptcy? house? to protect the baby’s life? alcohol? seatbelts? Find the limits where people switch and then confirm in your own words.
Rule #3: Talk in their language, not yours.
If you are arguing you should have 2 goals: acquisition of information and persuation. You’re not going to be effective in either one if you force someone into your framework of understanding. Use their words and their framework. Their foundation and beliefs are different and that’s GOOD. Its your job to understand it.
Notice my word change above depending on who I’m talking to: baby vs. embryo. A framework is not complete without terminology. Look at math and physics. If you don’t know the terminology, you can never hope to understand the framework (proofs).
Rule #4: If it changes to violent, stop and walk away.
There are a few reasons to be violent, either by raising your voice or getting physical. The only things that come to mind are protection from robbery or protests against the majority stomping on the minority (think Martin Luther King). Generally, there are better ways to solve things.
In fact, if you stop when someone gets hot under the collar and don’t give them a reason to label you (that guy is just a bully, or he was blowing smoke because he came unglued), you just made them think about why they’re steamed and why you’re not. People like to be consistent and don’t like to be mad without justification. If you don’t give them that justification, they might just think about what you said.
If you’re the one hot under the collar, consider why you feel that way.
For example, I don’t get mad at people who call my wife or mother nasty things. I know they are fantastic individuals. I usually comment about how their comment says more about them than my family and walk away.